Kira picked up the alarm clock. She felt like heaving it at the bulkhead window, but instead replaced it on the stand and flopped out of bed. She always awoke at 0500 hours, even on days like this, her day off. Lately, life had settled into an uneventful rut. Too many old friends gone, too many new faces to adjust to. Sometimes she wished the war would come back. If only for old time’s sake.
There was a message on Kira’s comstation. An invitation from Ezri to join her in some holosuite game or excursion or other…Kira scowled. Ezri was picking up Jadzia’s bad habits more and more, it seemed. No point in indulging her. Kira left her regrets on the message system and decided to do something constructive with her day.
Time to clean out all this old junk.
Soon it was all on the floor, seven year’s worth of debris, hauled out of closets, cabinets, storage niches. Small mandalas and sacred statues, purchased during some of Kira’s many visits to Bajor’s sacred shrines. Odo’s bucket – he’d presented it to her with a bouquet of Argellian roses. It had been charming at the time, but now Kira just wanted to toss the damned thing in the replicator and watch it disintegrate.
She stumbled across a little plasteen globe containing strange white specks that, when shaken, danced around an odd-looking orange structure. Kira turned it over: Souvenir of Starfleet Headquarters.
Oh yes, the O’Brien’s sent it a few months ago, from Earth. She wondered if the orange bridge had been rebuilt by now. Starfleet people seemed very sentimental about it, although she’d heard that in previous centuries, the bridge had been knocked down twice by earthquakes, so they couldn’t be that upset at having to build it again.
As she picked through the pile, she was astonished at its size. She never thought of herself as the packrat type. On impulse, she scooped up the junk and walked to the replicator, meaning to dump it all in at once. She stopped when bright object dropped out of her arms and onto to the floor.
Kira put the pile down and picked the object up. It was a bracelet, a circle of green stones crossed with silver and gold veins. She puzzled over it, then recognized it as a rare variety of jevonite.
Why would I have a jevonite bracelet? Kira thought. Jevonite is a Cardassian stone, and an expensive one, too. She shuddered with revulsion as she wondered if it had been a long-ago gift from Dukat, one that she had somehow forgotten about. She was about to toss it in the replicator when she suddenly remembered where it had come from. Tkenny Ghemor had given it to her many years ago.
Kira sat down on her couch and looked at the bracelet. It was old and beautifully crafted. It had belonged to Ghemor’s dead wife, and no doubt had been intended as an heirloom for their only child, Iliana. But Iliana was dead, somewhere on Bajor.
Maybe not dead, Kira thought. No one ever did discover the truth about her. Only that the Obsidian Order wiped out her memory, modified her looks so that she appeared Bajoran, and sent her to Bajor during the occupation as a deep-cover agent. Funny how I haven’t thought about her since…since Tkenny died here.
Kira put the bracelet around her wrist. Somehow, it wasn’t surprising that it fit perfectly. Then she snapped herself out of her reverie. Enough nostalgia. Finish the job, Nerys.
With a flash and a hum, the replicator ate Kira’s pile of junk. All except the jevonite bracelet, which she replaced in her now-cleaned drawer, in a place of honor.
By the cursed Hebetians, my head hurts. What happened? Did I try to match drinks with Damar last night? That one time should have been enough to teach me better…Josa, Josa, you’re slipping. Never drink with underlings, even ones you think are dimwitted enough to trust.***
Ah, but now I remember. We must have been celebrating our victory! That’s certainly worth a slight kanar hangover. The death of Sisko, the destruction of the Defiant. Cardassia firmly in control of Terok Nor, once again. And Bajor! Weyoun will object, of course. As if I care what that little ban’ taath thinks…
The man picked himself off the ground. His vision began to clear, although his head hurt no less than before. Around him dark shapes loomed against a livid night sky.
These aren’t my quarters…I’m not on the station! This is a planet. But where? Bajor?
He staggered through the silent streets of a ruined city. Which cities on Bajor are still in ruins? There were a few that were never rebuilt…it could be Jessaro…or Tonishal…or Kinoi…
A light rain began to fall. He noticed that the streets were paved with a porous volcanic stone. Strange…exactly like the streets of Cardassia. I never noticed streets like this on Bajor… Stubbing his toe against something in the street, he kicked it over; it was a doorplate from one of the destroyed houses. He read the words easily: Forty-second Dwelling of the North Mainway. The words were too easy to read; they were written in Cardassian.
This must have been a colonized sector. The Bajorans must have torn it down after the withdrawal.
Comforted by this explanation, the man lurched on. The street grew lighter ahead, where it widened into a spacious plaza. The circular area was ringed with buildings, in the same shape as all the others. Yet, in the center of the plaza was a statue that looked new.
He approached. The statue was facing the other way, but its clothing was unmistakable: a Cardassian military uniform. Incredible! Is this a statue of…me? Did the Bajorans finally come to their senses, at long last? Have they finally recognized all the good I did for their miserable planet?
Eagerly, he dashed around the statue. Its face was indeed familiar, but it was not his. Perplexed, he looked at the words inscribed on the statue’s base.
Dedicated on the eighth day of Mokdak, to Legate Endrek Damar, Cardassia’s Greatest Patriot. May his soul find rest in the halls of the Hebetians.
Dukat looked around him in horror, and understood where he was. He had at long last returned home.
Kira wandered along the promenade. It was very late and nearly all the stores were closed. Only the replimat was still open. And of course, Quark’s. The resumption of peace in the quadrant had been good for business, just as the Rules of the Ferengi said. But Kira didn’t have the patience for noise, crowds, and gaudy lights tonight.***
Then she noticed a new shop that had replaced a jewelry store: Tambo Bink’s Art Emporium.
That’s nice, Kira thought. It will bring a little culture and class to the promenade. I hope it doesn’t go out of business, too. Quark’s attracts the wrong sort. None of the better shops ever survive for long…
Curious to see why an art store was still open at this time of night, Kira went inside. Packing cartons were scattered all over the small space. Some had been opened, and their treasures displayed on pedestals and shelves. There were beautiful watercolors of Rakantha’s green valleys, re-creations of sacred tapestries bearing intricate designs of orange and brown, and folded paper representations of insects and birds hanging from the ceiling. Kira was no art critic, but she knew what she liked, and she liked everything that she saw.
This is all very good. Too good. The proprietor won’t stay in business long. Maybe I should come back tomorrow morning. Buy something, help him out.
Kira was about to leave, when a portly balding man popped up from behind a counter. “Oh, I didn’t hear you come in! Welcome to Tambo Bink’s!” he said with a grin.
“I take it that you’re Mr. Tambo?”
“That I am. I was just moving in. The store opens tomorrow morning…”
“Sorry to intrude. I was just curious…I’ll be leaving now.”
Tambo rushed out from behind the counter. “Oh, no. Please stay! It’s an honor to have the station commander as my first visitor!”
Kira smiled. Well, that’s not surprising. Of course he knows who I am. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to look around. If it won’t interfere with your unpacking.”
Tambo waved his hand in a welcoming gesture, then eagerly shadowed Kira as she looked at the unpacked artworks. Her eye was caught by one in particular – a statue about a meter high, a mellow off-white in color, an abstract curving column that conveyed both simplicity and power.
“Do you like the statue?” Tambo asked eagerly. “The sculptor has a large following on Bajor. You probably recognize her work.”
Kira shook her head. “I don’t know much about art, I’m afraid. Although I had a short and undistinguished career as a sculptor myself. Trying to follow my d’jarra. That was a bad idea.”
“Your d’jarra? Ah, yes. ‘Kira’ places you in the exhalted artisan caste.”
“But nobody bothers with castes now,” Kira said pointedly. She knew there was some remnant of the caste system on Bajor even today, a fact that she found distasteful. “Which is a good thing. I could never have done work as fine as this statue.”
Tambo was eager to agree. “Of course! The d’jarras were fine in their time, but after all…the woman who created this work would never have been allowed to sculpt in the old days. Her family name is ‘Fanu,’ which places her in the merchant caste. Fanu Meroe, are you sure you’ve never heard of her? She’s very well-know in Siprantha province…”
Kira knit her brow. “‘Fanu’? In Siprantha? That’s not a common name for Sipranthans.”
“She wasn’t born there. She came from somewhere else, but no one is precisely sure where. Even she is not sure.”
Kira made a guess. “Her family was killed during the occupation, and she was uprooted.”
“Exactly so. I believe she was in a militia…”
“No kidding. Weren’t we all?” Kira picked up the statue and admired it. This Fanu Meroe oddly paralleled her own life. And she couldn’t get over how compelling the statue was, for reasons she could not understand. She ran her hand along it. It was not cold; it had to be something other than stone.
“What is it made of?”
“Bone. Fanu works solely in animal bone, which she collects in the laca’ara graveyards outside of Jestrel City. It’s very unusual. I don’t know of any other Bajoran who works in that particular medium.”
“I’ll buy it,” Kira said impulsively. “How much?”
Tambo hesitated. “Two strips of latinum?”
Kira paid immediately without haggling. She had no idea how much the statue was really worth, but two strips seemed to be a modest enough sum. Tambo appeared surprised at receiving this amount with no protest, but happily pocketed the latinum and wrapped up the statue.
Returning to her quarters, Kira put the statue on a low table. It was framed by the huge oval windows that revealed the starscape outside. It was only then that she realized the curving lines of the statue matched the curve of the windows. The statue was clearly Cardassian in design.
Amazing. Why would a Bajoran sculptor…?
Then she remembered the bone sculpture in Tkenny Ghemor’s house. A piece of artwork created by his daughter, Iliana, shortly before she was sent to Bajor, never to be seen again. Kira picked up the statue. It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence! The same person made both pieces!
She almost went to her comstation to call Tambo, and then stopped. He might have already gone to sleep. And besides, she could investigate this further in the morning. If only for the sake of Ghemor’s memory, she knew she had to find out whether Iliana might still be alive.
The yellowish light hit Dukat’s eyes, which snapped open immediately. He picked himself up from off the ground, where he had dozed. In the bright light of morning, the destruction was hideously apparent. Towers of black rubble lined the streets where Dukat had wandered dazed in the dark. He had found other houseplates, some with street names that, to his horror, he recognized. This was definitely the capitol city of Cardassia Prime. He was now in a major business district, having walked here from outlying neighborhoods. He had walked for hours without seeing one intact building.***
Another man might have been overwhelmed by feelings of dislocation and helplessness, but not Dukat. As it always had, his unique strength – his unshakable belief in himself – saved him. Something terrible had happened here, but there was no sense moaning about it. The first thing he needed to do was find out what went wrong.
During the night, Dukat hadn’t seen a single living soul, although the pervasive sickly-sweet smell indicated a large number of corpses all over the city. He’d passed dozens of shapeless forms, huddled in the gutters, unmoving and stinking horribly. They were obviously bodies, which shocked him more than the destroyed buildings. The Cardassia he knew would never have been so sloppy and disorderly as to allow corpses to rot in the streets.
Dukat paused and looked around. Across the street, a woman peered out of a doorway. In fear, she slammed the door shut.
“Wait! Open the door, I demand it! I need some answers!”
“Go away!” came a tremulous voice.
“How dare you speak to me like that? Do you know who I am?”
“A robber, probably! Koval, come quickly and bring the axe! There’s a robber outside the door.”
“A robber?” Dukat bellowed indignantly. “You ignorant cow, I’m Gul Dukat. Even someone as stupid as you must have heard…”
The door flew open, and two startled faces, a man and a woman, peered at Dukat. The man was brandishing a large axe.
“By the Hebetians!” the man said. “You do look like Dukat!”
“Dukat is dead,” the woman said, and spat.
“I assure you, my fine woman, that I am not dead. Now tell me what happened here.”
The man and woman looked at each other and then back at Dukat. They both seemed too perplexed to say anything. Finally, the woman spoke. “Your friends from the Dominion did it!”
“Dominion? That’s impossible. There’s no reason why…”
The man, remembering his axe, waved it at Dukat. “You did this, by bringing those monsters here! And now the survivors are probably doomed, because of the Rugath virus. More Dominion treachery! Everyone thought you were dead, like you deserve. Well, I’ll fix that!”
The woman grabbed his arm. “Don’t, Koval! We shouldn’t kill him.”
“Indeed you shouldn’t,” Dukat said nervously. He didn’t have a weapon of any kind, something that hadn’t bothered him until now. He certainly hadn’t expected this reaction from his own people. Perhaps these two were mad?
“He should be arrested and tried for his crimes,” the woman continued. “Let’s not spoil things for the rest of Cardassia. I’m sure the whole planet would want to witness his execution!”
That was enough for Dukat. With a sneer, he turned and walked away from the two lunatics. But the pair ran out into the street and started screaming at the tops of their lungs: “DUKAT! Come out and see! It’s DUKAT!”
Soon, the street was alive with the formerly hidden citizens, who pounced on the startled gul. Fighting was no use; they pinned him down and then squabbled among themselves over what to do with him.
“We should turn him over to the authorities!”
“What authorities? There’s no police, no one to conduct a trial.”
“Yes there is. I know someone who has contacts with the Order. They’re the only authority on Cardassia now.”
This met with universal approval. “That’s right! Take him to the Order! The Order will know what to do with him.”
Kira had never visited Jestrel City before. It was a busy metropolis, the streets filled with hover-rovers and crowds of people strolling in the sunshine. In the years since the occupation, Bajor’s economy had recovered, and places like this had benefited hugely. The city had doubled in size over the last ten years, and new suburbs stretched out from the city center and into the surrounding hills.***
A public rover passed by and Kira hopped on board. She was wearing a brown and green dress, having left her militia uniform on DS9. This was not official business; she was here on a private quest to see Fanu Meroe. She wasn’t precisely sure what she would say when they met. She’d make that decision later.
The rover wound through the teeming streets and up into a hilly neighborhood. The houses were typically Bajoran, the same golden-brown color as the surrounding hills. The streets were lined with feathery-fronded trees that bore large blossoms of red, purple or yellow. Every house had a garden in front.
Kira found her destination and jumped off the rover at a stop. She walked down a narrow, quiet street. The day was growing increasingly hotter, but the tall houses on either side threw the street into cool, deep shadow. At the end was modest house fronted by a garden. A stone walkway led to an open door. Over the door was a sign: “Sculpture Studio of Fanu Meroe.”
Walking up to the door, Kira peered into the dark room. It didn’t look like anyone was home. As her eyes adjusted, she saw that the room was filled with bone sculptures of the same basic shape as the one she’d purchased from Tambo. Some were small enough to fit into your hand; others were larger than a person. A few were reminiscent of plant or animal forms, but most were abstract.
“Is anyone home?” Kira called.
“Just a moment,” a soft voice came from within. “I’ll be right out.”
A woman emerged. She was around Kira’s age, but somewhat shorter. Her hair was chestnut red and her eyes were brown. She looked no more like Kira than any random Bajoran woman might; reddish hair and brown eyes were very common among her people.
“I’m sorry it’s so dark,” the woman said. “I’ll turn up the lights.”
She prefers the dark, Kira thought. Are those brown eyes Cardassian? Brown eyes were rare among Cardassians, but then again, Kira recalled the vid she’d seen in Ghemor’s house of Iliana. Yes, she had brown eyes, didn’t she?
“I’m from DS9. My name is Kira Nerys, and I…”
Meroe clapped her hands and smiled. “Not the Kira Nerys? I thought I recognized you! It’s an honor to have such a famous person in my humble shop.”
“Thank you, Miss Fanu…”
“Please, call me Meroe!”
“All right,” Kira smiled. “But you have to call me Nerys. I recently bought one of your sculptures, and I was curious…where does your inspiration come from?”
Meroe looked troubled. “I can’t really say. I don’t remember my family or childhood at all. The only life I’d ever known, before becoming a sculptor, was in the Kendrite resistance cell. We operated in these same hills, before the city was built here. When the war ended, I had this strange urge to build a house on this spot. That was four years ago, and as you can see, I have a few neighbors now!”
“If you don’t mind my asking…why did you decide to become a sculptor?”
Meroe sat down. “It just seemed…the thing to do. Maybe it has something to do with the past that I can’t recall. I’ve always been troubled by strange dreams…”
“What kind of dreams?”
Meroe scrutinized Kira’s face, as though she was wondering whether or not to trust her. “I’ve never told anyone this before, but I often dream of Cardassians. Not nightmares, like you’d think, but pleasant dreams. They seem to want me to do something, to find something. Something very important.” She shrugged. “I don’t know what this has to do with my sculptures, but it seems like there must be a connection.”
Kira sat down next to her. “Since you’re being so honest with me, I need to tell you the truth. I came here because I think you may be the lost daughter of a friend of mine.”
“You know my family? Who are they?”
“You might not like the answer.”
“I don’t care. Tell me what you know!”
Kira grimaced and then answered. “I knew your father. He was one of the kindest, noblest and most honorable men I’d ever met. He was almost like a second father to me. His name was Legate Tkenny Ghemor, and he was…”
“Of course. A Cardassian.” Meroe looked down at her hands. “I’ve always known, I guess. I can’t stand bright light or cold. I never liked Bajoran food. When the militia used to raid the Cardie camps, sometimes I’d steal some of their supplies, just so I’d have good food for a change. And the dreams…but I’m not a half-breed, am I?”
Kira shook her head. “If I’m right, you are a full Cardassian. Your name is Iliana Ghemor. Your appearance was altered years ago when the Order sent you here on a spying mission of some sort.”
“Spying mission? What was I supposed to find? And why can’t I remember it?”
“If you really want to find out, we’ll have to go back to DS9. The Order blocked your memory before they sent you here, but Doctor Bashir should be able to restore you to the way you were before. Give you back your Cardassian appearance, too, if you want it.”
“Yes. I’ve hidden here in the dark long enough. It’s time to face the truth.”
Kira nodded and pulled something out of her pocket. “Whatever happens, I think it’s only right that you have this.” She dropped the jevonite bracelet in Meroe’s hand.
“This bracelet…I remember it! It was my…mother’s.”
Dukat wasn’t worried. Not really. During his long, checkered career, he’d been in plenty of trouble, in many different ways. But still, he’d never seen the inside of a Cardassian interrogation chamber. Not from the wrong perspective, that is.***
He strolled casually around the darkened room. Scant light came in from the gratings in the ceiling above. The only other furniture was the interrogator’s desk, placed as usual in the center of the room. And then there were those handcuffs dangling from the ceiling, but Dukat made it a point not to look at those. He knew his actions were being monitored. Above all, he must not show fear.
He wasn’t afraid, but he couldn’t forget that his brother, Ion, had probably met his end in a room like this. Their old father, innocent of any crime, had at least had the dignity of a public trial, although the charges had been Obsidian Order inventions.
The Obsidian Order. This couldn’t be an Obsidian Order facility, Dukat thought. They were gone, wiped out by the Dominion years ago. Yet that man in the square had clearly said “the Order will take care of him.”
That was another oddity. The Obsidian Order had never been popular with the people. A mob of Cardassians would never cheer at the thought of anyone being turned over to their tender mercies.
Dukat started to form a hypothesis. Obviously, something had gone terribly wrong on Terok Nor. Just at the moment of victory, Dukat seemed to have…what? Lost consciousness? Lost his memories? Of course! Weyoun!
This was a trick invented by that treacherous Vorta, Weyoun. He couldn’t bear to see him triumph. Dukat looked around at the cold steel walls. It’s a holographic fake. It has to be. Weyoun won’t break me this easily. I’m onto him.
Satisfied that he was once again ahead of the Vorta, he sat down on the floor and waited. After several hours, the door clicked. A Cardassian entered; Dukat recognized his black uniform as being similar, yet not identical, to the old Obsidian Order garb. His badge was also similar, but not precisely the same. Weyoun, Weyoun, you should be more careful with your research, Dukat thought smugly. Cardassians have perfect memories, remember?
Another person entered. Dukat felt a little shock before he caught himself, reminding himself that this was just a simulation. If Weyoun thought this would rattle me, he’s as blind as he’s always been.
Garak nodded to the guard. “That will be all, Kyarps. Wait outside. This shouldn’t take long.”
Dukat didn’t stand up. He remained sitting on the floor, his arms slung casually across his knees, a huge grin on his face.
“Dukat, what a pleasant surprise,” Garak said. “I honestly thought I would never see you again. Do you have any last requests?”
Dukat laughed out loud. “Obsidian Order uniform, and all,” he yelled at the ceiling. “You have an interesting fantasy life, Weyoun!”
A flicker of puzzlement passed Garak’s face. “Weyoun’s not here, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, isn’t he? I should have known how his tastes would run.”
“Weyoun’s dead,” Garak said patiently. “I should know. I killed him myself.”
This brought Dukat to his feet. “Then, allow me to shake your holographic hand.” And he astonished Garak by doing just that.
“Ah,” Garak said. “Am I to understand, then, that you think I am a hologram?”
“Of course you are! I have no idea what Weyoun was thinking when he created you, and to be honest, I really don’t want to know. My stomach may be strong, but it’s not that strong!” Dukat threw back his head and laughed heartily at his own joke.
Garak was no longer amused. “I’m afraid that this won’t be any fun if you persist in thinking I am a hologram.”
“Then prove to me that you’re not,” Dukat challenged.
Garak shook his head. “You really don’t remember any of it? The Federation re-taking DS9? Your madness? Being possessed by the paghwraith?”
“The pagh-what?” Dukat spat.
Garak waved his hand dismissively. “Some sort of Bajoran deity, I’m really not too clear about it.”
“Bajoran…Weyoun, Weyoun, you’re losing your touch!” Dukat bellowed at the ceiling. “Who would ever believe such nonsense?”
“You don’t recall that your Dominion allies murdered millions of Cardassians and nearly destroyed our homeworld?”
Dukat simply grinned at Garak. “Tell Weyoun he shouldn’t try so hard. Start out with something believable.”
“Like your daughter Ziyal being dead?” Garak said through clenched teeth.
Dukat’s expression darkened. “That’s not funny, Weyoun.”
“Your whole family is dead, Dukat! There isn’t a Cardassian who hasn’t lost a loved one! Because of you! What kind of punishment is sufficient for your crime? I generally have a very good imagination, but devising a fate that you deserve is beyond even my powers!”
Despite his calm, Dukat started to feel uneasy. There was something about this Garak that was…too authentic. How could the Vorta re-create the Cardassian mindset so accurately?
Garak sighed. “Obviously, there is only one way to get through to you. Your daughter, Teral, is still alive. The only one of your children left living, Dukat. And you should count yourself lucky for that. Some of us have…”
With one last glare at Dukat, Garak stomped out of the room. Dukat backed against the wall and slid back onto the floor, but he wasn’t feeling quite so cocky now.
Iliana’s eyes flickered open. She looked to one side. A bank of medical monitoring stations beeped softly in the silence. She looked to the other side. Two people were talking quietly in an adjacent room.***
Not Cardassians was her first thought. The woman is wearing a Bajoran militia uniform was her second thought. The man’s clothing is unfamiliar. But he’s a human. Wait, he’s turning around. The combadge. It’s Starfleet.
Iliana gathered her thoughts. Regardless of her situation, no Obsidian Order agent could afford to panic. If she had only been a prisoner of the Bajoran militia – the silly, amateurish militia – she wouldn’t have been so concerned. But Starfleet was another matter. It would be foolish to discount them. She knew she was in serious trouble.
Since when is Starfleet involved in our quarrels with the Bajorans? They’ve always known to stay clear of Bajor…Ah, but it’s coming back to me now. Slowly, the fuzzy mental images of her past came into focus. Being recruited, 15 years ago, by the Order, to discover the location of the Orb of the Celestial Temples on the then-occupied planet of Bajor. Having her appearance altered and her memories suppressed. Fighting alongside the odious, murderous Bajoran terrorists…she flinched, determined not to dwell on the crimes she had committed during those terrible years.
The occupation had ended, and her people had left. But her assignment had not been completed. Then, four years ago, she had found it: the Celestial Orb! She knew exactly where it lay! The implant in her brain should have activated automatically four years ago, alerting her superiors that she had succeeded.
But still, they didn’t come for me. They left me on that damned planet! They ignored the power the Orb represented! Why? What could have prevented…? Her memories were getting clearer now. Like everyone else on Bajor, she had heard the stories about the Order being obliterated in the Gamma Quadrant. They didn’t retrieve me because no one was left alive who knew about me! I could have ended my days on Bajor, and no one would have ever known about the Celestial Orb.
Iliana looked back into the adjacent room. She recognized the woman now. Kira Nerys, a meddling Bajoran, who offered her a way to return to her Cardassian identity. And the man, a Starfleet doctor. Iliana had forgotten his name. He’d told her that her DNA was Cardassian and returned her looks to their original state – as far as he could re-create what she had once looked like. Finally, he told her he’d do his best to restore her memories…that was all she recalled, before waking up.
The pair turned and looked at her. Play dumb, she told herself. What you know about the Orb is too important. Just as Tain thought – the key to ultimate power! I can’t risk being stuck in a Starfleet prison for the rest of my life!
The man in the Starfleet uniform walked over. “I’m Doctor Bashir,” he said, smiling. “How are you feeling?”
Iliana remembered her training. These Starfleet people are unbelievably gullible. Pretend to be friendly, and they’ll trust you. Above all, don’t let on that you remember anything!
Smiling back, Iliana croaked, “My head hurts, but otherwise, I’m feeling all right. What am I doing here?”
“Have your memories returned, Iliana?” Kira said, concerned.
“Who is Iliana?”
Kira sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “It didn’t work.”
Dukat no longer believed he was inside a holo-program. To his dismay, he knew that his daughter, Teral, was real. And that the horrors she was recounting were real as well.***
Teral had been little more than a child the last time Dukat remembered seeing her. But she had grown up quickly, and was now a beautiful young woman with a willowy figure and long, flowing black hair. When she’d rushed into the interrogation chamber, Dukat felt proud. My children always grow up to be good-looking. Well, what would you expect, considering who their father is?
Then Teral broke the bad news: Her five siblings were dead. Her mother was dead. Eight hundred million Cardassians were dead, punishment for their rebellion against their Dominion “allies.” Teral herself had survived only because she was off-world, on her honeymoon, when disaster struck. Her young husband had not been so fortunate. He had returned to the homeworld to help in the fight, and that was the last Teral had heard of him.
“And now, the rest of us will die!” Teral said, too shocked to even weep. “A plague is sweeping over all the Cardassian worlds. It strikes quickly. You can feel fine in the morning and be dead by noon. I’ve seen the bodies in the streets. Their scales are black, as though they’ve been charred. I’ve heard that it makes you feel like your blood is on fire…”
Dukat was too stunned to say anything. His daughter took his hand one last time. “They say the Dominion let loose the plague – the Rugath virus. I just want you to know that I forgive you for bringing those fiends here. But everyone else wants you dead. I will pray to the Hebitians for your soul.”
Teral fled out the door and Garak stepped inside. “I trust, Dukat, that you now know that this is reality. The reality that you created for all of us.”
Dukat’s mind worked furiously. Yes, this is real. And I am about to die. Oh, after a trial of course, but that reprieve won’t last long. There must be some way to turn this around. There always is. You’re Dukat! You never lose. So think!
The Rugath virus, she said. I don’t recognize that name – it must be a new disease – they must have named it after Rugath river, probably because it showed up first in that area. The Rugath river flows through the south-eastern part of the capitol city.
Ah ha! It flows past Obsidian Order headquarters. I saw intelligence reports on the Order – on their bio-terror weapons – those bastards spent enough time dreaming up ways to terrorize their fellow Cardassians, should the need ever have arisen. Did I ever see a description of a disease that does what Teral described?
“Lost your gift for eloquence, Dukat?” Garak said maliciously. “That’s such a pity. But I’ll help you get it back. We’ll need a full confession for the trial, I’m afraid. What methods should I use? The modern techniques are quick and efficient, but I think we can dispense with efficiency in your case. In fact, I may have to study the Order’s historical records to find methods that are appropriately inefficient and drawn-out. The fourth-century warlord Jenikon made some interesting innovations in soft-tissue extraction methods, as I recall…”
“When you’re studying the Order archives, perhaps you should find a way to cure this plague you’ve unleashed on our people,” Dukat spat.
Garak looked surprised then masked his expression. “The Order had nothing to do with the Rugath. It was yet another parting gift from your vile Dominion friends.”
“Either you’re lying, or you’re simply ignorant. Central Command knew that the Order had created a virus exactly like the Rugath. Their labs were abandoned and sealed years ago. The virus probably was hidden down there, and when the Dominion destroyed the building, the plague was released. You can’t blame anyone else for this, Garak! This is yet another horror perpetrated by the Order.”
Garak paused. “Regardless, it will hardly save your neck, Dukat.”
Dukat knew he was onto something. “You never knew about the Rugath, did you? Because Tain exiled you and removed your high-level security clearance.”
“This is all irrelevant…”
“You’re the only surviving member of the Order, or at least you think you are. What would you say if I told you that I know where other Order agents are – ones with high enough security clearance to access files on the cure for the virus?”
Garak said nothing.
Dukat continued, his words running over each other. “And you know the Order would never have created a virus without also creating a cure. Otherwise, the virus would be useless as a means of controlling the population. The Order would never have wanted to wipe out our people, only cow them into submission.”
“I’ve no doubt that this is a highly-imaginative fantasy. How would you know the whereabouts of other Obsidian Order agents?”
“Several of them passed through DS9. They were given deep-cover assignments on Bajor, and some of them were never recalled. They’re still on the planet now, Garak! If we can find them and restore their memories, they might be able to save our people.”
Garak looked skeptical. “Supposing I were to investigate your absurd claims. What would you want in return?”
Dukat began to see a glimmer of hope. “The names of the agents are still in the computers on DS9, under a security filter that the Federation would never be able to decode. Only I can decode it. We’ll go there, I’ll find the agents’ names and locations, and in return the Federation will grant me immunity.”
“You expect the Federation to do that?”
“Why not? They’d never let our entire race die. They’re too conscientious for that. And I can trust them to live up to their bargains. You don’t think I’d ever trust you, do you?”
“A wise precaution, Dukat. Your proposal is intriguing, if only because I see no alternative. If this plague isn’t stopped, the Cardassian race is doomed. Including me, and I’d always hoped to live to a ripe old age and become a crotchety old burden on everyone around me. I’d hate to be deprived of such entertainment.”
Garak left, and Dukat breathed easier. He had a reprieve, but it wouldn’t last long. His guess that the Rugath virus had been created by the Obsidian Order was the only true thing he’d said. He had fabricated everything else on the spot.
Dukat did recall several Order agents, disguised as Bajorans, being sent through DS9. But that was twelve or fifteen years ago. Even if they could be found, they probably were all dead by now. And Dukat had no way of finding them. The Order would never have allowed him to keep a list of their names on DS9’s computers. Garak must have known that as well. It was an indication of how desperate the situation was that he was willing to follow up on any lead, no matter how slim or improbable.
So, I’ll save my neck long enough to see DS9 again. And when I get there, and can’t produce the names, I’ll be right back where I started. But it gives me time to think of something else.
“WHO is coming to DS9!?!”***
They could hear Kira’s shriek in Ops, through the glass doors of her office. They probably heard it several levels below in Quarks’. She was engaged in a conversation over subspace with Admiral Ross that could only be described as “intense.”
Kira stormed out of her office and wandered around Ops, while the people on duty merely stared. “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! My d’jarra is cursed, I tell you. Cursed! This time I really am going back to Bajor. I’ve had it with this job!”
Bashir was incredulous. He’d thought that Kira had settled into her job pretty well by now. “Nerys,” he whispered. “What’s wrong?”
Kira grabbed Bashir by the arm and they returned to the office. When the door shut, Kira told him the story. “Admiral Ross has just invited Dukat to DS9! That’s what’s wrong!”
Bashir was speechless for a moment. “He’s still alive?” he finally said.
“Of course he’s still alive! He’s my own particular curse, so how could he ever die?”
Bashir shook his head. “What possible reason could…”
“Your friend Garak did this! Somehow, Dukat found his way back to Cardassia and convinced Garak that he knows a way to stop the Rugath virus. And that he needs to use DS9’s computers to do so.”
“Does Garak think he’s telling the truth? Every Cardassian has been infected by the Rugath, and there’s no known cure. This could be vitally important!”
Kira shrugged. “I didn’t talk with Garak myself, and Ross didn’t know many details. Evidentially, Garak has gotten pretty cagey since he returned to Cardassia. But he’s agreed to allow Starfleet to handle the security arrangements here.”
“I hope Ross doesn’t expect us to roll out the red carpet!”
“Hah. Dukat will be lucky if he gets off this station without a phaser blast right between the eyes. Agreement or no agreement, the minute I see his ugly face…”
Kira sighed. “Starfleet had to make a deal with Dukat. If he finds a way to stop the Rugath virus, he gets sanctuary inside Federation space.”
“Sanctuary? He’s a mass murderer!”
“Well, I’m so glad Starfleet finally realizes that! But I don’t know what you’re complaining about. You won’t have to talk with that bastard. No one will be allowed in Ops besides security personnel. And me, of course.”
“I have to stay,” Kira said, resignedly. “I can’t very well just leave Dukat and Garak to poke around in the station computers on their own. Maybe I’ll be lucky, and the Prophets will strike me dead before then.”
Iliana walked through the promenade, seeing it with new eyes. She remembered the day, 15 years ago, when she had first arrived here as a “Bajoran.” She and her Obsidian Order colleagues had first visited the prefect – in secrecy, of course. They didn’t need his permission or approval, but a certain degree of coordination between the Order and the military had been unfortunately required. Otherwise, Gul Dukat’s bumbling troops might have accidentally arrested or even killed one of the Order’s deep-cover spies on Bajor.***
After a stop at the infirmary to alter her appearance, Iliana had been rather rudely shoved through the security gates, into the Bajoran sector of the station. By then, her memories had been altered as well. She completely believed her own cover story, that she was a Bajoran worker in the ore processing center of Terok Nor. Shortly afterwards, as pre-arranged, a worker rebellion was allowed to get out of hand. Several Bajorans – Iliana included – had escaped to Jestrel province, where she had lived ever since.
Now that her memories had been restored, Iliana was amazed at how different Terok Nor seemed. Where the security gate had once crossed the promenade, there was now a Klingon restaurant on one side, and a florist on the other. The place was still filled with Bajorans, but now they looked healthy and well-fed; no one wore rags anymore. And although Iliana’s Cardassian looks had been restored, she was surprised that few people looked twice at her. She would have thought a Cardassian on DS9 – as the Federation now called Terok Nor – would have raised a few eyebrows.
“Let’s stop in the replimat,” Iliana’s companion said. It was Ezri Dax, the Trill counselor. Dr. Bashir had given her the assignment of helping the supposedly still-amnesiac Iliana adjust to her new circumstances.
Ezri ordered tulaberry juice from the replicator for herself. Iliana opted for fish juice. As they sat down at a nearby table, Iliana noticed that the Trill seemed distracted and disturbed. Some counselor. She looks like she’s the one who needs counseling.
So far, Iliana’s subterfuge had worked perfectly. The Starfleet people seemed to trust her completely. She had quickly learned to imitate their mawkish attitudes. “Ezri, is something wrong? You seem upset.”
“I shouldn’t burden you with my problems,” Ezri said, fidgeting with her glass. “It’s just that…my former host was murdered on this station. And just this morning, Kira told me that the murderer is coming to DS9! It’s unavoidable, and I certainly won’t be seeing him while he’s here, but it’s still…creepy, you know?”
Interesting. “I don’t understand. Why is it ‘unavoidable?’”
Ezri shook her head. “You’ve heard about the Rugath virus on Cardassia?”
Iliana nodded. “Colonel Kira told me what’s going on there.” I suppose it might even be true, although I don’t trust their Federation propaganda.
“Well, Dukat says there’s information stored on our computers here that can help cure the virus. He was in charge of this station years ago. You probably remember hearing about him when you were in the militia.”
“Yes, I do.” Iliana masked her surprise. I certainly remember Dukat! The prefect of Terok Nor. A strutting egotist, but a smart man. Uniquely charismatic. The Order respected him. Tried to have him assassinated on several occasions – a sure sign of the Order’s ‘respect.’
“Everyone on Cardassia has been infected by the virus,” Ezri continued. “But don’t worry, you won’t be endangered. Both Dukat and Garak will be surrounded by medical stasis fields while they’re here.”
Iliana looked sharply at Ezri. “Garak? Not Elim Garak?”
Ezri looked puzzled. “Yes, that’s his name. Do you know him?”
Damn! Sloppy! Garak was in the Obsidian Order. A militia fighter shouldn’t know him…now the Trill will suspect me!
Ezri gave her a way out. “You probably heard Julian mention him. He lived for years with us on this station.”
Iliana nodded. “Yes, the doctor mentioned his name.” Garak lived here, among the Starfleet people? Are they that stupid, to allow an Order agent to live among them? Needing to know more, Iliana added, “Why was a Cardassian living here?”
Ezri shrugged. “No one really ever knew why. He had a falling out with his boss in the Order. A man named Tain.”
Iliana clutched her glass tightly, but kept her face impassive. Is the Trill telling the truth? The Starfleet people knew Garak was with the Order, and let him remain here? I certainly remember Garak, and that assignment Tain sent us on to Borphal XI…I’ll never forgive Garak for what he did. Half our team died because of that pertoth! He’s a devious opportunist, ready to betray anyone at the slightest excuse. I wonder…did he betray Tain by going over to the Federation? That would be just like him! And then the Federation gave him sanctuary here. Yes, it all adds up.
Ezri smiled comfortingly. “Don’t worry about Garak. He’s really a nice person when you get to know him.”
Iliana smiled sweetly. “I’m sure he is.” Oh, very nice. A viper who bit the hand that nurtured him. If he’s such good friends of the Federation now, he must be my enemy. And Dukat always hated him as well…this situation poses interesting opportunities. But first, I have to get the shard from the basement.
“I was wondering…” Iliana added with a studied nonchalance. “Would I be allowed to return to my house on Bajor? If I’m going to stay on DS9 for long, there are a few things I’d like to get from there.”
“I’m sure that would be all right. I’ll arrange for someone to take you in a runabout.”
Ops had been emptied of all personnel, except for a contingent of five security officers. Kira had selected them personally. Each one was over six feet tall, appeared to be made out of solid neutronium, and looked tough enough to chew antimatter pods for breakfast. She wanted to make damned sure Dukat did not feel at home.***
The object of Kira’s distrust was now in her office, sitting in her chair with an aggravating air of entitlement, inputting extremely long and complex codes into the computer system. He’d been at it for hours, with nothing to show for his efforts. To one side of the desk was Kira, eyes trained on the console screen, hand never far from her phaser. On the other side was Garak, whose stance mirrored Kira’s.
“I think I’m making some progress,” Dukat said. He seemed to be enjoying himself as much as the other two people in the office were not.
Garak glanced over Dukat’s shoulder at the screen. “Am I supposed to believe that you’ve hidden the data in the sterilization subroutines for the waste management system?”
Dukat grinned. “Well, well, well. I didn’t realize that you knew so much about the station’s more plebian functions, Garak. Were you branching out from tailoring while you lived here?”
“Oh yes, indeed. I’ve always been fascinated by the various methods for disposing of unwanted refuse, especially when it appears uninvited on one’s doorstep. Now I suggest you keep looking for those names!”
Dukat kept typing in codes and directed his next comment at the scowling Kira. “Same old Garak. Things haven’t really changed that much, have they, Major?”
“It’s colonel now,” Garak said.
“Indeed! Congratulations. And you seem to be in command of DS9 as well. Very good, I’m really quite proud of you.”
Kira maintained her stony silence, so Dukat tried again. “But you still have Sisko’s baseball, I see. A parting gift? Where has Benjamin been re-assigned, anyway?”
Dukat’s questions were still met with silence, but he wasn’t about to give up. “And where is my old friend, Odo? I thought he’d be in charge of the security arrangements. I can’t imagine that he’d ever accept an assignment anyplace else.”
By Kira’s change of expression, Dukat knew that he’d hit a nerve. “He isn’t interested in talking to you,” she snapped. “Find whatever data you’re looking for and leave. The sooner you’re off this station, the happier I’ll be.”
“I heard that Odo has rejoined the Great Link, permanently,” Dukat said glibly. “Is that true?”
Kira, annoyed at Dukat’s implication, fiddled with her weapon. “You know, Dukat, the militia has sent us new phasers, but I just can’t get the hang of the controls. I can’t figure out how to take it off the ‘disintegrate’ setting.”
“How unfortunate,” Garak said, smiling. “Perhaps I should send you a shipment of the disruptors that the New Order uses. They don’t have any settings other than ‘disintegrate.’ Perfect for situations like this.”
Garak and Kira soon lost patience with Dukat’s fumbling around with the computer, and sent his back to his holding cell. Reclining on the hard bench, Dukat took stock of his situation. Clearly, he had run out of time. Garak must realize by now that he had been lying about the files. Tomorrow, he would be on his way back to Cardassia, and shortly after that, he would be dead. Somehow, he had to get out of this holding cell, to survive, for Cardassia’s sake as well as for his own.***
Dukat jumped up and began pacing like a caged panther. Cardassia needs me now! Millions dead, the planet in ruins! And Garak of all people, running some shadowy organization. In such a power vacuum, this ‘New Order’ – how amusing that Garak isn’t even trying to disguise its origins – could become the planet’s new rulers.
I know what Garak’s doing. He’s blaming the devastation on ‘the unchecked ambition of Central Command.’ A common Order slander; they always blame the military for everything. He’s playing on the anger and vengefulness of the survivors of the carnage. He’s probably promised them a ‘powerful new Cardassia’ that would never repeat the mistakes of the old. Good strategy. One that I might have used, if I were in his place.
If only I had been in my right mind! None of this would have happened. Cardassia would have won the war. I would be in command of Terok Nor, instead of playing the fool for Garak’s benefit, pretending to look for non-existent files.
Somehow, I have to stop what’s going on. Garak and his ilk cannot be allowed to get their greasy hands on the reigns of power. If nothing is done, the New Order will set up a puppet government, and no decent Cardassian will be safe from their cowardly terrorism. There’s only one person who understands what kind of government Cardassians need. Me! The Union will rise again, with the kind of man Cardassians deserve at the helm.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dukat saw a flash of light. He turned, thinking that the force field around the cell might have malfunctioned. What he saw made his jaw drop. A doorway – a doorway! – had opened in the wall of the cell.
A secret doorway in a holding cell? The Federation has an odd notion of security. This certainly wasn’t here when I was prefect!
But Dukat could tell that this was no ordinary doorway. On the other side, dark fog swirled; he felt a chill breeze across his face, as if from a cave. And when the fog parted, he could see a room beyond, with rough-hewn walls that appeared to be made of rock. The doorway led somewhere, but certainly not to another room on the station.
Dukat heard footsteps coming from the security office. One of the guards, making his rounds. He knew he had to decide now. It was his only way out, but he still hesitated, until he saw someone beckoning from the other side. It was a woman. A Cardassian woman.
That was all Dukat needed. If this woman was trying to rescue him, she had to be a friend. Even if she wasn’t, it was better than meekly waiting for certain death. Given the choice between the known danger and the unknown, Dukat was always willing to take a risk. He stepped through the doorway.
Moments later, the guard glanced into the now-empty cell and sounded the alarm.
Kira, Garak, and two dozen security officers scoured every inch of DS9. Incredibly, Dukat had vanished from a highly-secure holding cell.***
“I’ve seen some incomprehensible things in my time,” Kira said, peering intently at the security system playback in Ops, “but this beats them all. Where in Bahala did that door come from?”
The vid from Dukat’s cell showed an impossible scene. One moment, the cell was normal; Dukat was pacing around. The next moment, a rectangular space appeared in the wall, and Dukat stepped through.
“It wasn’t a transporter,” Garak replied. “Or if it was, it was nothing like I’ve ever seen. None of the normal traces show up on any of the security sensors.”
Kira shook her head. “No transporter could have gotten through the beam-out dampening fields, anyway. What was that thing?”
Within minutes, all the security data had been sent to Starfleet headquarters for analysis. Because of the extreme security risk that Dukat posed, it was given highest priority. Within an hour, the analysis came back to DS9. Kira just stared at it, uncomprehendingly.
“Iconian gateway? I’ve never heard of that.”
Garak blinked and said nothing for a moment. “I have,” he finally croaked.
Kira noticed that several classified reports had accompanied the transmission. “And apparently, Starfleet has heard of it as well.” She started to read their contents. “Let’s see… Official transcripts of Starfleet’s Archeological Section…Iconian civilization believed to date back at least 200,000 years…no idea who or what the Iconians were… two previous discoveries of Iconian gates …in the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants? How is that possible? The Iconian civilization couldn’t have spanned such a huge region of space!”
“Oh yes, they could have,” Garak said soberly. “The Obsidian Order, like Starfleet and all the other major powers, have known about the Iconians for years. And we’ve all had operations underway to find their gates – although those operations have been largely unsuccessful. The Iconians held unimaginable power. Look at these reports, Colonel. Both gates were destroyed shortly after being discovered.”
Kira knit her brow. “Why?”
“It is believed that the gates represent an immense network that spans the entire galaxy. Possibly several galaxies. Anyone who found an Iconian gateway could travel any place instantaneously. Imagine the kind of power that would give someone. The gateways were too dangerous for anyone to allow to exist.”
Kira stared at Garak. “Are you saying that Dukat now…”
“Has the power to go anywhere, do anything he wants,” Garak said soberly. “May the Hebetians protect us all.”
The air swirled around Dukat in mad confusion. He staggered forward, his sight obscured by the mist, conscious only of the thought that he must not lose his way. A hand reached his and pulled him through.***
He wasn’t in a cave, like he expected. It was simply a basement. From the other side of the strange doorway, the unfinished walls had made the room appear to be a cave. Boxes and cartons were stacked along the walls. In one corner was a cluster of taller objects, draped with cloths. At the far end of the room, sunlight slanted down a staircase. The sun is too bright. This can’t be Cardassia.
Dukat looked at the woman who had saved him. A Cardassian, somewhat short for their species, quite skinny. Not bad looking. Reminded him of someone, although he wasn’t sure who. Brown eyes – unusual.
“Where is this place?” he demanded. “And who are you?”
“I am Iliana Ghemor, and you, Gul Dukat, are in the basement of my house on Bajor.”
Dukat grinned hugely. Bajor, again! I’ll never be free of this place. Well, perhaps this is my – what do the Bajorans say? – d’jarra?
“That was quite a trick. How did you accomplish it…I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”
“Iliana Ghemor. Don’t tell me you don’t remember me?”
Dukat paced around ostentatiously, hands behind his back, while he tried to place the name. “Ghemor, Ghemor…I knew of a Tkenny Ghemor, a famous traitor…”
“Traitor?” Iliana bristled.
Dukat remembered his manners. “Ah. Perhaps that was a hasty judgement. So much has happened, after all. Are you a relative?”
“I’m his daughter. So you really don’t recall my coming to Terok Nor?”
Dukat scowled and shook his head.
“With Tain. I was in the Order.”
Dukat’s scowl deepened, but he obviously remembered now. “Indeed. One of the agents sent to spy on the Bajoran terrorists, I assume?”
“Then it’s fortunate that you’ve made yourself known. There is a virus loose on…”
Iliana put up her hand. “I know about the Rugath. It’s taken care of. When Garak returns to the homeworld, he’ll find a secured transmission containing my security codes. But that’s not important now.”
“And precisely what is important?”
Iliana looked furious. “I’ve been asleep for 15 years, and when I awake, look what’s happened! Cardassia has been nearly destroyed by traitorous fools!”
“Now, just one minute, young lady,” Dukat began threateningly.
“And now the greatest traitor of all, that odious toad Garak, is in a position to run the entire planet! No doubt as a fiefdom of the Federation, since he’s obviously in their pay.”
Dukat’s scowl turned to a smile. “An excellent analysis of the situation, Iliana. Garak is up to no good…”
“Ha! Tell me about it! When has he ever been up to any good? He’d stab you in the back as soon as look at you…” Iliana took a few deep breaths and calmed down.
“I see you are as well acquainted with our friend Garak as I am.”
“Which is why I know he must be stopped. Cardassia is weak and helpless now. It needs someone powerful to save it from being annexed by the Federation. Someone who can restore it to its former glory. It needs you, Dukat.”
“Me?” Dukat said modestly, as though he hadn’t been thinking that all along. “I’m afraid that my popularity among Cardassians has waned somewhat of late.”
“You know our people as well as I do! They’ll follow any leader who proves his strength. You may be blamed now for the excesses of the Dominion, but that will be forgotten when you demonstrate that you can defend the Union from the Federation – and recapture the territory the Klingons and Romulans have seized!”
“Yes. Well, Iliana, you have an excellent theoretical grasp of Cardassian politics, but your understanding of the practical side leaves something to be desired. Just how am I supposed to demonstrate that kind of power? The Cardassian fleet has been shattered, the economy is defunct, the population is demoralized…”
“With this.” Iliana held out her hand. It contained a glowing green shard of glass.
Dukat looked skeptical; Iliana explained. “The Order sent me to Bajor with a specific mission. To find the Orb of the Celestial Temples. In fact, that’s the only mission any Cardassian has ever had here. You probably don’t know this, but this wretched planet was originally annexed for the sole purpose of allowing the Order to search for this Orb.”
Dukat looked more than skeptical. “I have never heard that…”
Iliana waved away his objections. “You’ve been told the same story that every other Cardassian has heard, from childhood. That Cardassia sent advisors to Bajor to provide friendly assistance, and then found it necessary to occupy the planet to teach the inferior Bajorans how to properly develop their economy and pull themselves out of their primitive existence. Or something like that, am I right?”
“Well, it was all a lie. The Order sent those ‘advisors’ to Bajor fifty years ago because we suspected the Orb of the Celestial Temples might be somewhere on this planet. We took every Orb we could find, but none of them was the right one! We kept looking. The Bajorans objected to us taking their religious artifacts and became obstreperous. So the Order concocted the whole justification for the occupation, and Central Command obligingly sent in troops to keep the peace.”
“Just so you could find one Orb,” Dukat said sardonically. “And what kind of Orb would justify such effort?”
“One that confers ultimate power on the finder,” Iliana said. “There is some kind of link between the Prophets and the Iconians. The Prophets may actually be the Iconians; after all, no one knows where they vanished to. But the Order was never interested in the niceties of Bajoran theology. We merely wanted access to the gates. When my memory was restored, I recalled why I built my house on this spot. This basement was actually the hiding place for the Orb.”
“So, am I to believe that this piece of glass you’re holding is…”
“Part of the Orb of the Celestial Temples, yes.”
“Fascinating. But what can a piece of glass accomplish?”
“Allow me to demonstrate.”
Holding out the shard, Iliana traced a rectangle in the air with her outstretched arm. Dukat was stunned to observe a doorway, just like the other, opening in thin air. Beyond, the fog swirled thickly, clearing now and then to reveal a constantly-changing vista beyond. Desert worlds, dense jungles, ruined cities, barren moonscapes all flashed by in rapid succession.
“Where does it lead?” Dukat asked.
“Anywhere we like. I suggest we start with the Aschelan system. Since the war ended, the Klingons have taken over several planets in that system. Our first step in restoring you to power is to kick them out.”
“Indeed. Just the two of us.”
“You won’t be so skeptical in a moment.” Iliana thrust forward the shard and the vista beyond the door resolved into an unmoving image. It was a room, filled with computer consoles. Through the fog, Dukat could see the angular forms of Cardassian writing on the consoles. Then he drew back in shock as a Klingon in full armor stalked by.
“This is Aschelan II, the largest populated planet,” Iliana explained. “The Klingons control of the defense command center for the entire system, and our military is in no shape to repulse them. Their long-term strategy is to slowly take over neighboring systems, while using diplomatic pressure on the Federation to forestall any objections. I think they need to be stopped, don’t you?”
Iliana grasped Dukat’s arm, and suddenly jumped through the door. Dukat, almost involuntarily, followed.
They stepped into the command room. It soared several stories high, each level lined with more consoles, and each manned by several Klingons. Dukat took an immediate census. There were at least forty Klingons in the facility, just in this one room.
A Klingon was just ahead of Iliana, with his back turned. He was leaning over a monitor, and seeing something strange in the glossy reflection, turned around. He wasn’t fast enough; Iliana already had her disrupter out. She shot him point-blank, and he fell against the monitor, now glistening with purplish blood.
“Sorry.” Iliana said. “That wasn’t very honorable of me, was it?”
The other Klingons reacted swiftly, but not swiftly enough. Iliana pushed Dukat back through the gateway, which collapsed into nothingness behind them.
The basement was silent, except for Dukat’s raspy breathing. “We were just in the Aschelan system! Twenty light years from here. That is incredible!”
“We killed a Klingon, with impunity, in the heart of their most heavily-defended facility,” Iliana replied. “We strike quickly. They will never be able to predict where we will appear. We can go anywhere. By collapsing the gateway behind us, we can prevent them from ever following us.”
Dukat saw the possibilities. “They wouldn’t be able to stop us…”
“Just as the ancients could not stop the Iconians. There is a reason they were called ‘demons of air and darkness.’”
Dukat smiled. “Now we’re the demons.”
Iliana dug with her shoe in the ground, revealing a small bag. She pulled it out of its hiding place, brushed off the clay-like soil clinging to it, and drew out another green shard. She pointed it at her companion. “How would you like your own bird of prey, Gul Dukat?”
It was a rare event when a bird of prey could be taken by the enemy. It was unheard of for it to be taken over in thirty minutes. And it was inconceivable that only two people could kill a crew of hundreds of armed Klingon warriors, but nevertheless, it happened. Dukat took over the engineering section of the Chowlith Kor, popping in and out of the Iconian gate, disrupter blasting, faster than the boggled crew could react. Iliana did the same with the command bridge. When these two sections had been taken, they flooded the rest of the ship with tricyanate gas, which the Klingons kept in reserve in case the vessel were ever in danger of being taken.
When the gas had done its deadly work and dissipated, Iliana and Dukat appeared back on the bridge through the gateways. Stepping over the bodies, Dukat strolled around the bridge. Once before, he had thought his days of greatness were over. But that all changed when he captured a Klingon vessel…now, to his great satisfaction, history was repeating itself.
Iliana ignored Dukat’s preening triumph. She shoved the tactical officer’s body off the station and set to work modifying the main sensor array. In short order she had jerry-rigged a slot for one of the glass shards in the sensor controls. She slid the shard into its housing.
Dukat cocked his head with mild interest. “And what is this contraption supposed to do, Iliana?”
She appeared to ignore his question, still fiddling with the controls. “I’ve always heard that you have a precise mind, Dukat. I’m surprised that you didn’t think to ask why the Orb was called Orb of the Celestial Temples. Plural.”
Dukat shrugged. He hadn’t even noticed the distinction, but hardly wanted to admit it to his rather arrogant ally. “It didn’t strike me as important. Why?”
“That wormhole near Terok Nor is only one of many.” Iliana pressed a sequence on the control panel and watched the viewscreen as a green bolt of energy shot from the underbelly of the bird of prey. The blast split into a dozen bolts, and each of those fragmented as well, until the green energy filled all visible space in a complex, branching pattern.
What happened next was something that Dukat would never forget until his dying day. At the terminus of each bolt, space seemed to suck into itself and then explode in a blinding, white light. The light dimmed and Dukat could see again. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of swirling vortices now filled the viewscreen, each one the twin of the wormhole at Terok Nor.
“This is the secret of the Iconians,” Iliana said, her eyes shining brightly. “Space is riddled with wormholes. Not natural phenomena; the Iconians created them. They’re simply larger versions of the gates. Big enough to admit a vessel or an entire fleet. And we…” Iliana yanked the green shard from its holder. “…control them.” With her final words, the wormholes fizzled into nonexistence. Space was once again clear and calm with the silent sparkling of stars.
“Where did…?” Dukat gasped.
“Oh, they’re still there. They’ve been there for hundreds of thousands of years. All over the galaxy. No one could see them before now, but we can.” Iliana brought up a navigational chart on the console. “We took over a bird of prey with just a pair of disrupters. Now that we have a vessel, we should be able to do more. Much more. First, we’ll need a crew, and since the Klingons are likely to come after us, we should do our recruiting on the other side of the Union. The Celtris system looks promising. The Celtran colonists have always been loyal to the Union, and it was largely untouched by the Dominion. They have the manpower and the will, they simply lack leadership.”
Dukat pushed the dead Klingon captain aside and took his place in the command chair. “Then it’s time we provided that leadership. Take us to Celtris.”
A few thousand kilometers away, the first Klingon vessel to respond to the distress signal of the Chowlith Kor noted that the ship, seemingly dead in space, had begun to move. The captain ordered speed increased beyond warp nine, and then watched in amazement and futile rage as a wormhole opened, swallowed the Chowlith Kor, and then snapped shut again, leaving no trace of its passing.
In the following weeks, Kira ceased to be concerned with Federation archeology reports on the Iconians. An emergency meeting was convened on DS9 by the top Federation brass to discuss what to do about the disturbing situation in Cardassia.***
Ross paced from one end of the briefing room to the other, while the representative of Starfleet Intelligence reported on her assessment of the situation. Kira sat with her arms folded, trying to fathom how Dukat had managed, once again, to make her life a nightmare.
“The revolt began in the Celtris system, an obscure arm of the Cardassian Union,” the Intelligence officer began. “Our operatives there tell us that Dukat and a previously unknown woman – which we’ve now identified as Iliana Ghemor – appeared there with a captured Klingon bird of prey. They beamed to the capitol city of Celtris II – the largest planet in the system – and displayed the bodies of four hundred and thirteen Klingon warriors, who they claimed to have killed personally.
“Anyone who understands Cardassian resentment of the Klingons will immediately guess what kind of an impact Dukat made with this little demonstration. He had an entire planet willing to follow him anywhere.”
Ross stopped pacing and harrumphed in disbelief. “Aren’t these Cardassians aware that Dukat is responsible for the deaths of millions of…?”
The Intelligence officer interrupted with a curt nod. “They certainly are, Admiral. But Cardassians think quite differently from humans. Or Vulcans, Trills, or Andorians. Above all else, they respect power. They have a great fear of powerlessness. It’s entirely plausible that Dukat would be forgiven for his past errors in judgement if Cardassians thought he could strengthen the position of the Union.”
“’Past errors in judgement’?” Kira said in surprise. “That’s a pretty mild way of putting it!”
“It’s simply how a Cardassian would view the situation. They are very practical people.”
“I have to concur with this assessment,” Garak said from where he sat unobtrusively at the back of the darkened room. “And leave it to Dukat to turn one of my people’s most useful traits – their practicality – into a detriment.”
“What do you think Dukat has in mind, Garak?” Ross asked.
Garak fidgeted and glanced at Kira, who interpreted his body language correctly. “You don’t need to say it, Garak,” she said. “If Dukat really does have the power of the Iconians at his disposal – and there’s no other explanation for what he’s been able to do – then the outcome is inevitable. First, he’ll take control of Cardassian space. Then he’ll reclaim territory lost to the Klingons and Romulans. And then he’ll expand his influence into adjacent systems. Which of course will include Bajor.”
“Let’s see him try!” Ross said, slamming his fist on the table. “Colonel, the Federation never gave up on Bajor during the past seven years, and we’re not giving up now!”
Kira nodded grimly, but she couldn’t silence her skepticism. “Admiral, that’s a fine sentiment, but let’s be honest. Do you really expect the Federation to defend Bajor against Dukat, if he really does have this kind of power? Isn’t it a lot more likely that the Federation Council will do everything they can to sign a peace treaty with the Cardassians? After all, what with the Dominion treaty, the wormhole isn’t as valuable a piece of real estate as it once was.”
“This has nothing to do with the wormhole,” Ross replied. “The Federation is determined to defend Bajoran interests not because of any strategic need, but because it’s the right thing to do. You stood by us during the darkest days of the Dominion War. What kind of people would we be if we abandoned you now?”
Kira looked at Ross with surprise. She had always regarded him as one of the Federation’s bland bureaucrats, but his speech implied deeper wells of character and strength.
“I suppose I shouldn’t break the news prematurely,” Ross continued. “But as of two hours ago, an agreement was signed between the Council and the Bajoran government, formally admitting Bajor into the Federation.”
Kira’s jaw dropped. She had heard all about the long, drawn-out talks regarding Bajor’s admittance into the Federation, but there had been no indication that it would happen anytime soon. “You’re kidding! I mean, it’s great, but…”
“A little sudden?” Ross replied. “Recent events required us to take swift action. If Bajor is in the Federation, maybe Dukat will think twice about striking Bajoran space.”
The meeting broke up and Kira wandered, still a little dazed, into the corridor.
“We live in interesting times,” Garak said behind her. Kira turned and regarded the enigmatic Cardassian. She had never fully trusted him, but in any fight against Dukat, she knew that Garak was bound to be on her side.
“Too interesting. You probably understand how Dukat thinks better than anyone else, Garak. Do you actually think Federation membership for Bajor will make any difference at all to Dukat?”
“Ordinarily, I dislike giving a clear and simple answer, but in this case I will have to change my longstanding habit,” Garak said with a hint of weariness. “No.”
TO BE CONTINUED….